52. What is the future work structure? | O’Brien McMahon, Senior VP at Lockton


O’Brien McMahon | Senior VP at Lockton


This week we caught up with Senior Vice President at Lockton, O’Brien McMahon
O’Brien helps HR and business leaders build better employee benefits, compensation, and retirement programs. 


This is the third and final part of our conversation with O'Brien, in this episode, we speak about what does the future work structure look like.


OBrien MacMahon-1


O'Brien hosts “People Business with O'Brien McMahon”, a podcast exploring the human element of work. He has met with over 300 companies in the last decade and enjoys helping leaders make the most of themselves and the people around them.




[00:00:07] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to episode 52 and the third and final part of our conversation with O'Brien McMahon. O'Brien is Senior Vice President with Lockton. He helps HR and business leaders build better employee benefits, compensation, and retirement programs, and he also hosts The People Business with O'Brien McMahon podcast. Be sure to check that out.

[00:00:30] - Doug Foulkes
I'm Doug Foulkes and I'm with WNDYR CEO Claire Haidar. Claire, what are we discussing with O'Brien this time?

[00:00:37] - Claire Haidar
Doug, in this segment, specifically, is a continuation of the overall three-part segment that we're doing with him, where we moved from The Great Resignation and a very employee favorable workplace into mindsets that are really critical both by employees and employers to navigate this new reality of churn and shorter 10 years, et cetera.

[00:01:01] - Claire Haidar
And in this episode, we're specifically looking at a higher level, the gig economy as well as full-time employment. Are both still relevant? How are the two going into play with each other? Where's the one more appropriate than others? Are they suited to certain stages of life? And what are the implications of the changes that are happening in both of those areas for the other?

[00:01:28] - Claire Haidar
So there's very interesting legislation coming out around the gig economy. How does that impact full-time employment? Full-time employment is having to really change because of how mobile people are becoming and how talent is being sourced now. What are the implications of that legislative changes on the gig economy in converse? So some really interesting things coming out in this conversation.

[00:01:53] - Doug Foulkes
Yeah, it was a very fitting conclusion to our hour spent with O'Brien. Let's hear what he's got to say.

[00:02:00] - Claire Haidar
Looking forward to it.

[00:02:03] - Doug Foulkes
O'Brien, looking at the work structure in the future, would you say that the concept of full-time employment is becoming outdated? Is it going to be that simple?

[00:02:13] - O'Brien McMahon
I don't think so. I think to some of the other comments that we've made around the gig economy, I think the gig economy is great because it allows some people who couldn't otherwise to step into their own and start their own small business, even if it's just them and own their careers in a way they couldn't before. It also gives people the opportunity to step out for a longer period of time and really find the right next step instead of just the available next step.

[00:02:43] - O'Brien McMahon
But people live long lives and work long careers, and I think people want some element of stability in that, and I think people want the ability to master their craft and to learn things. And I think you do that through full-time employment. Maybe full-time employment looks a little different. I don't know that we're ever going to get to four days a week, but I don't know. Maybe something happens and that's where we go. Or maybe full-time employment looks virtual or hybrid, but I still think there's a very valuable place for full-time employment.

[00:03:18] - Doug Foulkes
Do you think maybe it's almost a case of FOMO where people see The Great Resignation, they want to jump on and explore that a little bit, jump around a little bit, maybe get the advantage of that extra income while everyone's scrambling to get people employed?

[00:03:36] - O'Brien McMahon
Yeah, I think there's that for sure. I think about my own career, and when I was in my early 20s, I think I had five W-2s by the time I was 25. I had a vision for what I wanted and the lifestyle and career I wanted to create. And I was trying a bunch of things to figure it out and find the right landing spot.

[00:04:01] - O'Brien McMahon
And I got to my current employer, Lockton, and I've been there 12 years now because it provides all of the opportunity and continued growth that I was looking for. And it gives me an opportunity to continue to level up every day, which is something that's important to me.

[00:04:18] - O'Brien McMahon
I think we're going to see that again now. I think people are maybe rethinking some of their values. They feel like they need something new and maybe we're going to see this flurry of people hopping around, but I think people ultimately settle. I think we like routine to some degree. We like habits, and I think it's going to settle down at some point. Maybe not all the way down to nothing. Maybe it'll still be a little bit higher than it was before, but I don't see full-time employment going away.

[00:04:47] - Claire Haidar
I fully agree with you, O'Brien, because one of the things that I actually have correlated in my brain around this topic specifically, and you actually alluded to it earlier when you mentioned the whole sleep thing, you know what I mean? You would think that sleep would be innate to a human. No, it's not. You don't train a baby to sleep. They're not getting sleep, but it's going to take very many years for them to figure it out on their own.

[00:05:11] - Claire Haidar
Very similarly to that, if you look at a lot of the natural cycles that happen in the human body. So for example, our taste buds change every seven years. A lot of those natural rhythms that happen in the body happen in seven-year cycles. And there's multiple examples of that throughout the human body. And I think if you go and look at a lot of the research that has been done around career, 10 years, specifically in full-time roles, a very similar pattern of time emerges is that you can almost view a person's career in chunks of seven years.

[00:05:56] - Claire Haidar
And even if you as an individual listening to this conversation that we're having right now goes and things back, you yourself said it, by the time you were 25, you had about five W-2s. If you think about it, that's your first chunk of the seven-year period because it goes from 18, which is that start of your college, so that first initial breakthrough period in your career. It's that chunk of seven years.

[00:06:19] - Claire Haidar
And so you tend to find that people who are maturing up in the career, there's also a little bit of magic in that seven-year number, where you can really... There's enough time to get in, lay a foundation for something that you want to achieve, which furthers your career, but at the same time is a very real thing that the company that you're working for wants to push forward. And then you face this path in your career where you're like, "Okay, am I going to double down again and invest further into this area? Or is it time for me to now go and lay the next foundation for the next thing that I need to build?"

[00:06:56] - O'Brien McMahon
Absolutely. And It's funny that you say that because recently I have been going through my own questioning with my career. There was an internal opportunity that came up that was interesting to me, and I really walked through it and said, "Is this something that I want or do I want to keep what I'm doing?" And I landed firmly in the camp that I want to keep doing what I'm doing. There's more to do.

[00:07:21] - O'Brien McMahon
There's more to achieve. But in my head, I had said, "This feels good for about the next seven years and then I'm going to reevaluate."

[00:07:29] - Claire Haidar

[00:07:29] - O'Brien McMahon
Yeah, it was.

[00:07:31] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, you see? You're kind of like-

[00:07:31] - O'Brien McMahon
And that just... Yeah, I can see out seven years, like, yes, this is a good next step. And then at that point, it starts to get fuzzy again, and maybe I double down again and continue it on after that. Or maybe I don't, but it's funny that that's what happened in my head.

[00:07:45] - Doug Foulkes
Future work structure. Do the benefits that are going to be needed, do they have to drastically change to keep up with this new generation of employee that we've spoken about? Or are they just going to fall back into what we give them?

[00:07:59] - O'Brien McMahon
So I do benefits consulting, so I just want to make sure that we're talking the same language here. When you say benefits, what are you thinking of?

[00:08:08] - Claire Haidar
So I'm going to weigh in here on that one because this question is in your... Specifically, because you do benefits consulting, O'Brien.

[00:08:14] - O'Brien McMahon

[00:08:15] - Claire Haidar
Yes. So we're thinking of the same thing. It's everything, starting with health care and pension contribution all the way down to what we would call the warm and fuzzy benefits that come in a workplace. It's that full spectrum of things.

[00:08:33] - O'Brien McMahon
Sure. So a couple of different ways to answer this. Do I think benefits need to change? Yes. But I think health care needs to change. So there's this larger problem that the health care system in the United States specifically needs to change. There's so much waste, there's so much bloat. It's so hard to even understand what the costs are and how it all works. I do this for a living. I do health care consulting for a living.

[00:09:03] - O'Brien McMahon
And I'll go to the doctor and ask for the cost of a simple visit or procedure. And I can't figure it out. The doctor's office can't tell you what it costs.

[00:09:14] - O'Brien McMahon
So there are some fundamental changes that need to happen in the health care system. I think that's a whole different conversation with a lot of political implications. But I think as far as what an employer is offering to an employee, the way that I think about it in my head is go to the basics and then if you have more resources, build on to the basics.

[00:09:35] - O'Brien McMahon
But the basics are, are you paying people enough to fulfill the dreams that they have for their life? That's that's just the key one. Are you paying your people enough? Can you pay them more? Yes, maybe the market is X amount of dollars, but do you have the ability to be an employer of choice and provide more to your people so that they can go on and live happier lives themselves?

[00:10:01] - O'Brien McMahon
The next is health care, which is basically medical coverage. Are you providing medical coverage that makes them feel like they're protected and their family's protected? Because that's what they want. They want to feel protected.

[00:10:15] - O'Brien McMahon
And then from a retirement standpoint, are you putting them in a position through comp, through retirement plans, deferred comp whatever incentives you have, to move on and age gracefully so that they're going to be protected at the end of their lives? That's really what people want.

[00:10:30] - O'Brien McMahon
Yes, it's great to have the other lines of benefits. Yes, it's great to have perks, but put the money into the core elements. And then if you have more, then build that out. I see people taking one pot of money and spreading it too thin, and then they wonder why their people don't value the benefits that they have.

[00:10:54] - Claire Haidar
So you said something, O'Brien, you said, "It's what we all want." This has interestingly happened in our organization, but we've also had a lot of our customers share the same experience. I know this is not an insular incident where Gen Zs and millennials are coming in and saying the typical pension health care framework just doesn't work for me, just give me the cash. I just want the cash and I'll deal with it the way I want to deal with it.

[00:11:26] - Claire Haidar
And just anecdotally, some things that I've heard in our social circles recently is because people... Like concierge medicine really became... It's always been a thing. Concierge medicine has been a thing, but it became a real thing that was very attainable by the average person on the street during COVID, just because of COVID and the way doctors had to reach people, and people are going, "Ha, I like this. I like the concept of concierge medicine," which is currently not catered for by health care at all. So do you really think that benefits, as you've just laid them out, is really what people are wanting, or is there a shift in mindset there?

[00:12:09] - O'Brien McMahon
So I think all people want compensation to go live the life that they want. I think that's universal, nobody would turn down more money. Health care is an interesting one. So what you said is, Gen Zs are coming in now and they're saying, "Just give me the cash." That was the same thing that was being said about millennials when millennials started coming into the workforce, was that they don't value these benefits in the same way.

[00:12:34] - O'Brien McMahon
Well, now millennials are starting families and they're valuing benefits-

[00:12:39] - Claire Haidar
All of a sudden-

[00:12:40] - O'Brien McMahon
All of a sudden, these things become important. Maybe we're all getting a little older. I'm on the leading edge of the millennials, I'm almost 40. It's important to me now, I'm thinking about it a lot. And so I think it's an age thing more than it's a generational thing. I think you go through stages in life, to your point, about seven-year increments. You go through stages in your life.

[00:13:04] - O'Brien McMahon
And yeah, you may come in and you're like, "Oh, this health care stuff, I don't need this health care stuff. I'm bulletproof." Well, you get pregnant, your wife gets pregnant, one of you in your 30s has a health condition, suddenly this becomes important stuff and values start to change seven years down the road. So I do think it's still important.

[00:13:23] - O'Brien McMahon
Again to the employer, what we said at the very beginning about the employer teaching employees the skills they need, this is important stuff. It's just like somebody coming in and being like, "I don't value my retirement account. I don't need to retire." Yeah, OK. You don't appreciate that now. But if you don't save something, you're going to be in a world of hurt later. So we need to teach you these skills.

[00:13:46] - Claire Haidar
Yeah. How to adult at 30, how to adult at 40, how to adult at 50.

[00:13:49] - O'Brien McMahon
Yes, exactly. Exactly. So are you going to get as much bang for your buck if your employees are all in their 20s and you have high turnover, so you know they're not going to make it to their 30s with you? Yeah, okay, maybe you don't... Maybe they have to contribute more to the plan, and it's not as rich a benefit, and you just pay them a lot more money. But those 20-something-year-olds are going to become 30-something-year-olds pretty quick and start families, and they're going to have those needs.

[00:14:21] - O'Brien McMahon
So it's planning for what you have today, and then educating them and helping them make good decisions for the future, even if they don't know that it's coming. So I think it's a blend. And to your point, there's always some gray area here and nothing that I say should be taken as gospel. But I do think it's worth providing the core elements that people are going to need through their lives.

[00:14:41] - Claire Haidar
I think that was one of the happiest moments in our company, was when we were actually able to... As a startup, I think it was two years in, once we had raised that first big round where we were able to do it. I literally went out and celebrated. I was like, I felt like a more accomplished employer.

[00:14:58] - O'Brien McMahon
Yeah, I'm sure you did. Yeah, that's a great day.

[00:15:02] - Claire Haidar
So, O'Brien, we're coming up to the end of our conversation together, and my final question for you is, coming back to future work structure and the shift that we're seeing between full-time employment and the gig economy. How will the new legislation that's currently happening around the gig economy, from your lens, things that are happening in the benefits world, how is the new landscape, the future work structure shaping out because of what's happening on the gig economy side?

[00:15:32] - O'Brien McMahon
You know, I'm going to be honest and say that I'm not as up to date on the legislative side of this. And so it would be purely speculation and probably not very helpful to anybody to answer that question. So I will respectfully pass that to somebody who knows more than I do.

[00:15:49] - Claire Haidar
No problem. So I'll tell you why I'm asking for your anecdotal evidence. Doug and I had an amazing conversation. I actually can't wait to share this conversation with you, when we release it as a podcast, with a partner in a law firm that specializes in employment law last week, and her name is Lucy Lewis. And she had some incredible insights around this topic and specifically how just the concept of the right to work is having to change because of this new world that we're working in.

[00:16:25] - Claire Haidar
And so I was just wondering if through your lens, because of the benefits work that you do, are you guys starting to think into that area? Or are you starting to think if the concept of the right to work and the place to work is shifting and changing because of what we've just been through over the last two years, does that change benefits? If I go from the US and decide I'm going to go work in the Caribbean, what happens to my benefits?

[00:16:54] - O'Brien McMahon
From that standpoint, employers are having to get much more agile when it comes to how they administer the people side of their business and the benefits side of their business, because the Caribbean example is a good one. But let's just say somebody is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, where I'm sitting right now. Well, over the last 18 months, suddenly, they've been all virtual and now they've got employees in Montana, and Texas, and California, and maybe somebody moved to Hawaii. There are all kinds of different state laws and legislations that they now have to comply with.

[00:17:35] - O'Brien McMahon
And so just the complexity of what they have to deal with now, what I see anecdotally is employers are running out and finding good partners to manage all of this stuff because they can't keep up with it. If you're not keeping up with it, I wouldn't feel bad about it. I would just find a good partner to help you with it because it's becoming unmanageable, especially as states enact their own disability laws. More and more, we're seeing that become a big challenge.

[00:18:03] - O'Brien McMahon
And then similarly, if now you're going to leave the country, well, now you're dealing with an entire different health care system with different insurance laws, and so now you need even more help to go out and understand where those are, and in most countries, you can't bring your insurance policy from another country. Their insurance laws are very specific country-to-country that they have to operate that way in that country, be bought locally. So unfortunately, that flexibility in the system does not exist today.

[00:18:30] - O'Brien McMahon
Going back to the gig economy, though, we are seeing some employers maybe who have delivery... They're doing their own delivery services, and they're all 1099 employees. They want to offer those people health care. But it can be tricky because some of the legislation prohibits offering that group plan.

[00:18:50] - O'Brien McMahon
So I think there is some work that's going to need to be done on the legislative side to change what it means to be a group health plan. I know there's lobbying efforts for that, but we haven't seen anything meaningful come out yet. We started to see some association health plans come out. Some states haven't really liked those, so they've made it really hard to put those together. There's no great answer to that question about what can an employer do, but find a good partner who can really help you evaluate all the options is my advice.

[00:19:21] - Claire Haidar
O'Brien, thank you so much for talking to us today and spending this time with us.

[00:19:26] - O'Brien McMahon
Thank you for having me on. It's it's always fun to chat and especially to hear where your head's coming from on these issues too.

[00:19:32] - Doug Foulkes
And that is the end of episode 52 and our chat about the employee landscape with O'Brien McMahon. If you found this podcast of value, please share it with friends and colleagues. Catch us on Spotify, Google and Apple Podcasts, or on WNDYR's website, WNDYR.com. And from Claire and myself, bye for now.

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